Downing Street backs unrepentant Lee Anderson as he refuses to apologise for migrant comments

9 August 2023, 00:36 | Updated: 9 August 2023, 00:37

Lee Anderson has doubled down on his comments about migrants.
Lee Anderson has doubled down on his comments about migrants. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

Downing Street has backed Lee Anderson's comments about migrants as the Tory deputy chairman refuses to apologise for his controversial remarks.

The Conservative Party deputy chairman refused to apologise for his comments about migrants on Tuesday evening after he originally said those unhappy with the Bibby Stockholm should “f*** off back to France”.

Speaking in an interview last night, the MP for Ashfield doubled down on his remarks, as he said: “Like I say: if it’s not good enough, then they should go back to France, in stronger words.”

It comes after the first group of 15 migrants boarded the controversial barge on Monday, which is moored in Dorset.

However it emerged that some 20 migrants did not board the housing barge after their transfers were "cancelled" by refugee charity lawyers.

Justice secretary Alex Chalk defended Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday, as he said the MP’s comments contain “a lot of sense”.

Mr Chalk told LBC: "Lee Anderson expresses the righteous indignation of the British people. Yes, he does it in salty terms, that's his style, but his indignation is well placed."

Downing Street has since reiterated Mr Chalk's view, as a spokesperson for Number 10 said: “The justice secretary was speaking on behalf of the government. That is the response.”

Refugee charity lawyers 'blocked' some 20 migrants from boarding the barge on Monday.
Refugee charity lawyers 'blocked' some 20 migrants from boarding the barge on Monday. Picture: Alamy
The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday.
The first group of migrants boarded the barge on Monday. Picture: Alamy

Mr Anderson also hit out at the Labour Party on Tuesday evening, as he mocked the party’s lack of reaction and claimed “their silence is deafening”.

He said: “The left wing mainstream media has gone into meltdown over my comments but, interestingly, I am yet to see one Labour front bench MP disagree with my comments.”

Roads Minister Richard Holden also defended the MP on Tuesday as he said he "understands" the language used by Mr Anderson.

Speaking to LBC’s Ben Kentish, Mr Holden said: “It’s the sort of language I’d hear from my constituents on the doorstop, in fact sometimes, it’s stronger language than that. I think, it’s not language that I would specifically use.”

When pressed on whether the explicit language used by Mr Anderson was acceptable for a senior Tory MP, Mr Holden replied: “Lee will express himself in his own inimitable style, and I think we need to be careful about this, if we start to try and police people’s language when this is a really serious issue.

He continued: “If people are coming to this UK illegally then they shouldn’t be here.”

“There are plenty of safe countries that people will have travelled through to get here, and people will quite rightly understand the language that Lee Anderson and others have used in this space, because it reflects the real frustration that people have.”

Read more: 'I like it': First migrant to leave Bibby Stockholm gives verdict on what life is like on floating barge

Read more: Migrants who refuse to board Bibby Stockholm barge 'face losing government support'

Read more: 'We will punish and disgrace rogue lawyers who help small boat migrants lie to stay in UK', justice secretary vows

Shelagh Fogarty: Rishi Sunak should sack Lee Anderson

The transfer of migrants onto the vessel has been mired in difficulty and delays in recent weeks amid safety concerns, local opposition and legal challenges.

The Government has said the barge, which was initially designed to fit about 200 people, has a 500-person capacity.

Labour’s Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, hit out at Mr Anderson’s comments on Tuesday as he accused the government of stoking "division and hate”.

He said in a tweet: "Language matters. This lot have been in Government for 13 years. After their abject failure all that's left is stoking up more division and hate. We deserve so much better."

While the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, criticised Mr Chalk’s defence of the comments.

He said: "Alex Chalk's toe-curling interview was yet another sign of how weak this Government has become.

"Lifelong Conservative voters expect decent and respectful political debate, something completely lacking amongst Conservative MPs.

"People in Blue Wall Cheltenham would have been spitting out their cornflakes listening to Alex Chalk this morning,” he continued.

Former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott also said: “A new low even for the Tories.”

Despite the backlash faced by Mr Anderson, he doubled down on his remarks, as he replied to Ms Abbott’s tweet: "Wrong again... I told illegal migrants to go back to France, not genuine asylum seekers.”